July 16 2012

Competency-based Degrees: An Idea Whose Time has Come…Again?

Vicki E. Alger

More colleges and universities are considering competency-based degree programs. Such programs offer students flexible schedules, the opportunity to get credit for skills they already have, and acquire new skills they need at their own pace. (See here and here.)

As Time reports:

 

Earlier this month, officials from the University of Wisconsin announced the school’s plans for a “flexible degree” program, which would allow students to enroll when it suits them, study online at their own pace — and gain academic credit for knowledge they’ve acquired outside the classroom. Completion of the program is based on “competency,” not on “seat time,” meaning that if students can show they know their stuff, they can skip over introductory courses and other prerequisites to get their degree sooner….

 

But this is hardly a new idea, as Time continues.

“In the apprenticeship era, most of what people learned occurred outside of school,” [notes author Allan Collins]. “Universal schooling led people to identify learning with school, but now the identification of the two is unraveling.” One sign of this creative and productive unraveling: universities themselves are recognizing that the classroom is not the only place to learn.
 

Given high levels of college graduates’ lack of preparation and the soaring costs associated with earning a degree, perhaps it’s time to reconsider an idea whose time has come…again.



 

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